Monday, April 1, 2019

It Came From The Cineplex: Greta

Greta was written by Ray Wright and Neil Jordan. It was directed by Neil Jordan.

Wright previously wrote Pulse, Case 39 and The Crazies (the 2010 version, which I liked quite a bit).

Jordan is an eclectic filmmaker who's been working since the 1980s, and previously wrote Traveller (yes, the title's deliberately spelled wrong) and The Actors. He wrote AND directed Angel, The Company Of Wolves, Mona Lisa, High Spirits, The Miracle, The Crying Game, Michael Collins, The Butcher Boy, In Dreams, The End Of The Affair, The Good Thief, Breakfast On Pluto and Ondine. He directed We're No Angels, Interview With The Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, The Brave One and Byzantium. Whew!

Think Fatal Attraction, but between an older and younger woman and you'll have a pretty good idea what this movie's about.

I've been trying to figure out just how to categorize this film. It's not a horror movie, as there's nothing supernatural about it. I wouldn't call it a slasher film either, as the villain's just an ordinary old woman. It's also not a thriller, as there's nowhere near enough action.
If I absolutely had to pigeonhole the movie, I'd call it "Elevated Schlock." It's basically a drive-in movie from an A-list cast and director. There's no theme, no lesson or no point, other than perhaps, "Never Trust Anyone."

Isabelle Huppert definitely sells the premise here, as she gleefully chews the scenery. No, strike that— she absolutely DEVOURS it. Rarely have I seen an actress commit to a role with such determination and glee.

Sadly, despite Huppert's best efforts, the movie veers dangerously close to dull. There's a shocking moment in the third act that wakes the audience from their slumber, as the movie finally picks up steam and begins rolling along. Unfortunately this shot in the arm likely comes too late to satisfy most viewers.

So far Greta's grossed $11 million against its minute $5.2 million budget. I doubt Focus Features did much promotion of it, so the "Needs To Make Twice Its Production Budget" probably doesn't apply here, making the movie a minor box office success. You know what that means! Look for Greta 2: Even Grettier in a couple years!


The Plot:
Frances McCullen (played by Chloe Grace Moretz) and her roommate Erica Penn are twenty-somethings who live in an impossibly spacious NYC loft apartment
 the kind you only ever see in movies, and which would cost at least $10,000 a month in real life. How can two gals just starting out afford such a place? Because it's paid for by Erica's wealthy dad, of course.

Frances works as a waitress in an upscale restaurant, and the recent death of her mother has caused a strain between her and her father Chris (played by Colm Feore). Frances is shy and retiring, while Erica is a brash and outgoing party girl. OK, I think that sets up just about everything.

One day on the subway, Frances sees an expensive handbag sitting forgotten on a seat. She takes it and looks inside for I.D., and discovers it belongs to a French woman named Greta Hideg (played by a scenery-devouring Isabelle Huppert). Frances tracks down Greta's house, and returns to the bag to her.

Greta's so grateful she invites Frances in for coffee. Greta says she makes ends meet by teaching piano, and plays a Liszt composition for Frances. She says she's all alone in the city, as her husband is dead and her daughter's away studying in France. While he two chat, a banging sound comes from the wall behind the piano. Greta says her neighbors are renovating, and the noise is driving her crazy (PLOT POINT ALERT!).

Frances feels sorry for Greta, so the next day she accompanies her to the pound to help her pick out a companion dog. She then begins hanging out more and more with Greta, as the two go shopping and take walks in the park.

Erica thinks the whole thing's weird, and accuses Frances of using Greta to replace her late mother. Frances angrily denies this, and says she's just spending time with a lonely old woman. Erica tells her she's far too trusting, and the city's going to eat her alive. She asks Frances to come to a party with her, but she says she already has plans with Greta.

That night, Frances goes to Greta's place to help cook dinner. Frances sets the table, and asks where Greta keeps her candles. She says they're in a drawer in the dining room cabinet. Frances roots through the cabinet, unable to find the candles. She opens a drawer and instantly freezes in horror— inside she sees eight or nine duplicates of the bag she found on the subway! Each is labeled with a different young woman's phone number, including her own. She looks through several of the purses, and they all contain the exact same items— including Greta's I.D. card.

A stunned Frances tells Greta she's not feeling well, and hurriedly leaves. Later that night, Frances tells Erica about Greta's purses, and admits she was right about not trusting people. She decides to cut ties with Greta altogether.

Greta doesn't take this silent treatment well, and begins calling and texting Frances non-stop. She even shows up at Frances' job. Frances tells her she knows about the bags, and Greta tries to explain. Frances tells her to stop calling, as she doesn't want to see her anymore.

The next day, Greta plants herself across the street from Frances' restaurant, simply standing and staring in her direction for hours. Frances calls the police, who of course tell here there's nothing they can do about it as Greta's in a public place and there's no law against staring.

Greta even targets Erica, snapping stalkerish photos of her and texting them to Frances. Fearing for Erica's life, Frances calls Erika and tells her Greta's right behind her and to run to the nearest public place. A frantic Frances takes a cab to Erika and rescues her in the nick of time.

Sometime later, Greta shows up the restaurant and requests Frances as her server. Frances reluctantly waits on her, as Greta makes increasingly outrages and impossible demands. Eventually she freaks the hell out and literally flips a table (!). The manager calls the police, and Greta's dragged kicking and screaming out of the restaurant and into an ambulance.

The next day, Frances and Erika go to the police station to fill out a restraining order, but are told it could take months just to get a hearing. I don't think it really takes that long, but let's just move on. 

Later that day, Frances finds out Greta was released from custody. She goes to Greta's house to tell her to leave her alone, but she's not home. For some reason, Frances decides to root through Greta's trash can. She discovers her daughter isn't studying in France after all, but killed herself due to Greta's overbearing nature. Even more surprising, Greta's actually Hungarian, but is pretending to be French for some reason (???).

Frances' father Chris asks her to come visit him in Boston, so the two can attempt to reconnect. At the same time, Erica invites her to go out of the country with her for a while. Frances thinks about it, but eventually says leaving won't help, as Greta will still be there when she returns. Erica says she's an expert at dumping people, and tells Frances how to get rid of Greta— namely lying through her teeth.

Frances takes her advice and meets Greta at her house. She tells her she's going away for a while to "work on herself," and they'll get together when she returns. Greta's suspicious, but hugs her and wishes her luck.

The next day, Frances is alone in her apartment and warms a pot of coffee. Suddenly she gets sleepy, and realizes she's been drugged. The last thing she sees before passing out is Greta standing over her.

Greta somehow drags the unconscious Frances back to her house without being arrested. She pulls the piano away from the wall, revealing a secret room behind it. She stuffs Frances inside a large wooden trunk and locks it. Greta then takes Frances' phone, and sends fake vacation photos to Erica and Chris. This causes each of them to think Frances took a trip with the other.

Frances wakes inside the box and begins pounding on the lid, begging to be let out. After a while Greta lets her out of the trunk, but keeps her locked in the secret room. She warns her that if she doesn't behave, it's back to the trunk. After Greta leaves, Frances looks around the room and finds clothing and I.D.s from her previous victims.

Greta eventually lets Frances out of the room for brief periods, so the two can be together. She drugs Frances and keeps her in a stupor to prevent her from trying to escape. 
Greta forces her to learn piano, rapping her knuckles with a ruler when she makes a mistake. 

One night Greta makes Frances help her bake cookies. When Greta's holding a sharp cookie cutter in her right hand, Frances sees her chance. She brings down a heavy rolling pin on Greta's hand, causing the cookie cutter to slice off her pinky (!). She then bashes Greta in the side of the head with the rolling pin, knocking her out. 

Frances frantically tries to escape, but all the doors are somehow locked from the inside (?). She goes down to the basement, but can't find a way out there either. While there, she finds Greta's previous victim under a blanket, weak and near death. Suddenly Greta comes up behind her and knocks her out.

Meanwhile, Erica and Chris run into one another, and each realizes Frances isn't off on vacation with the other. Chris hires private detective Brian Cody to find Frances. Cody investigates Greta, and finds she was a nurse who was fired for abusing sleep meds, and is supposed to be currently living in Hungary.

Cody tracks down Greta and pays a visit to her house. She invites him in, and Frances— now bound and gagged in the secret room— hears and bangs her head on the wall to signal him. Greta tells him her neighbors are making noise again (see, told you this was a Plot Point!), and starts playing the piano to drown out the thumping.

Cody figures out what's going on, so when Greta goes out to the kitchen to fix some tea, he pulls the piano away from the wall and finds the secret room. Just as he's about to open the door, Greta sneaks up behind him and injects him with a sedative. He falls to his knees and tries to shoot her, but his vision blurs and he misses. Greta grabs his gun and shoots him in the head with it. Inside the room, a frustrated Frances screams.

Weeks later (!!!), we see a young black-haired woman riding on the subway. Oddly enough, we never actually see her face, just the back of her head. Hmm... that can't possibly be significant, can it? She spots a forgotten purse on a seat and picks it up. She sees the purse belongs to Greta Hidag, and returns it to her home. 

Greta's so grateful she invites the woman in and makes some tea. There's a thumping behind the wall, and Greta yells for her neighbors to be quiet. Greta finishes her tea, then becomes dizzy and falls to her knees.

The young woman whips off her black wig, revealing she's really Erica (GASP!). She says she's been riding the subway for weeks, looking for Greta's goddamned purse. She pulls the piano from the wall and kicks open the door to the secret room. She finds a half-dead Frances inside and rescues her.

Erica asks what they should do with Greta, and Frances suggest tossing her in the trunk. She "locks" it by jamming a tiny Eiffel Tower trinket into the latch, and she and Erica go off to call the police. Greta wakes and starts pounding on the inside of the trunk, causing the trinket to slip a bit...

• Not a lot to say about this film, so this won't take long.

• Let's take a close look at the movie's poster. For some reason, the designer thought it would be a good idea to Photoshop every trace of a wrinkle from actress Isabelle Huppert's face.

Granted, Huppert's very well preserved for a sixty five year old, but she's nowhere near as young as she appears on this poster.

The movie's ostensibly about an older woman who targets a naive young girl, but the poster makes them look practically the same age. Was Focus Features afraid that tweens wouldn't go see the movie if they saw an old lady on the poster?

• Frances and Erika have a land line in their spacious Manhattan loft, because that's totally a thing that millennials still have in 2019.

• At one point Frances checks her cell phone and sees she has EIGHTY missed calls from Greta. I guess it never occurred to her to simply block her number.

• As I mentioned in the plot outline, Frances and Greta cook dinner together one night. Frances asks where she keeps her candles, and Greta replies they're in a dining room cabinet. Frances roots through the cabinet and accidentally finds a drawer containing a 
dozen purses identical to the one she found on the subway. She quickly realizes that Greta's using the purses as bait for some nefarious purpose.

Why the hell would Greta let Frances within twenty feet of her secret purse cabinet? At this stage of the plot she's still pretending to be normal, so the last thing she'd want is for Frances to discover her secret. I can't understand why she didn't shoo Frances away from the cabinet and pull out the candles herself.

• The Prodigy came out about a month before Greta, and I saw the two films a week or two apart. Oddly enough, both movies share quite a few very specific similarities.

In The Prodigy, a young boy named Miles Bloom is possessed by the spirit of a Hungarian serial killer named Edward Scarka. In Greta, the titular villain pretends to be French, but is actually from Hungary.

Both movies contain scenes with metronomes. In The Prodigy one is used to hypnotize Miles, while in Greta she uses one to drown out the cries of her previous victim.

Lastly, The Prodigy features a psychiatrist character named Arthur Jacobson, who's played by actor Colm Feore. In Greta, Frances' father Chris is played by you guessed it Colm Feore!

• Frances tries to file a restraining order against Greta, but the beleaguered police tell her they're so backed up that it'll take six weeks or more. Frances is so frustrated that she tells the cops to forget it.

Even if it did take that long to file an order (which is doesn't), why not go through with it anyway? This is classic movie plot trickery, to facilitate the plot and let Greta keep doing whatever the hell she wants.

Actually, this entire scene's a load of crap. According to the interwebs, you don't get a restraining order from the police— you get one from the county courthouse. It's also a good idea to get a lawyer involved to help you navigate the system.

You then request a hearing, which generally happens within two weeks or less. You then serve the papers, have your day in court and boom! Your tormentor is restrained.

Greta is a cautionary tale with a B-movie plot and an A-movie cast. Isabelle Huppert steals the show as the titular Greta, and rarely have I seen an actress commit so fully to a role. She doesn't just chew the scenery, she devours the entire studio. The film starts out slowly, but finally picks up speed in its third act. Unfortunately by that time, many viewers may have checked out. It probably deserves a C+, but I'm bumping it up a bit due to Huppert's presence. I give it a B-.

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